By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
BIG RAPIDS – Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian trailed Big Rapids by eight strokes Saturday, with time running out.
Sensing his team needed a boost, both physically and mentally, fourth-year NorthPointe coach Erik Fahlen handed out Snickers bars to all five of his players with four holes remaining.
Those Snickers must have really satisfied.
The Mustangs staged a furious rally, with four golfers making birdies during the closing stretch to pull off a three-stroke victory in the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final over hard-luck Big Rapids, which was playing at home on Katke Golf Course in Big Rapids.
“We had an incredible final four holes,” said Fahlen, whose team repeated as a Finals champion after winning the Division 4 title last year. “We gave them those candy bars just as way of reminding them that it’s close and they need to finish strong.”
NorthPointe finished with a two-day total of 624, with Big Rapids second at 627. Grosse Ile was a distant third at 664, followed by Napoleon (672) and Grand Rapids West Catholic (676).
Erik Fahlen Jr., the coach’s senior son and reigning Division 4 medalist, placed second this time and led the way for his team with steady, back-to-back rounds of 73.
Junior Lance VanErmen bounced back from an 81 on Friday with a 77 in windy conditions Saturday. But the key score Saturday for NorthPointe came from freshman Luke Schrock, who followed up an 83 with a 79 to give the Mustangs three scores in the 70s and provide the winning margin.
“It feels really good to help the team win,” said Schrock, who stayed calm despite a mid-round triple bogey. “We knew it was going to be close. I just tried to focus on every shot and not mess up.”
Schrock’s clutch round capped off a memorable end of the season for the 15-year-old. His 83 as the fifth man actually delivered the Mustangs a Regional title May 29, after the top four players tied with West Catholic’s.
Also figuring in the scoring for NorthPointe at the Final were sophomore Sam Nelson (76-82-158) and senior Ben Ng (85-82-167).
Hanover-Horton junior Jack Brockie captured the individual medalist honor after firing an impressive 3-under-par 69 on Saturday. His two-day total of 2-under 142 (73-69) was good for a four-stroke victory over Fahlen and Cheboygan senior Zachary Gilder (72-74-146).
“My putting was much better today,” explained Brockie, who qualified for the Final as an individual. “The strength of my game is my driving, and when I struggle, it’s around the greens. But today I was good on the greens.”
It proved to be a tough result to stomach, once again, for Big Rapids, which placed second for the third straight year. The perennially strong Cardinals last won a Finals title in 2008, but since have finished second five times.
Last year, the Cardinals actually tied for first with Hanover-Horton, but lost on the fifth-man tiebreaker.
This year, it looked like they would take the next step after having four players shoot 80 or better on Friday and build a five-stroke lead over NorthPointe Christian. Plus, they had the advantage of playing on their home course, with their school located adjacent to Katke’s 12th fairway.
Big Rapids maintained its lead for most of Saturday, led by senior standout Pierce Morrissey (74-75-149), before NorthPointe’s late-round heroics.
“It just goes to show that you can’t ever give up during a round of golf,” said Fahlen Jr., who will play on the golf team next year at Taylor University. “It was really a total team win. I mean, to have a freshman like Luke Schrock shoot a 79 in these conditions, is huge. The wind really picked up later in the day, and it got pretty tough out there.
“I think that’s the best part about today – we came through under pressure.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Golfers watch from the tee during Saturday’s LP Division 3 second round. (Middle) A competitor fires an approach from the sand. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
The LPGA Professionals have named Saline High School golf coach Debbie Williams-Hoak as its national Coach of the Year.
Williams-Hoak was among national award winners who were selected by the LPGA Professionals’ executive committee from a pool of Section Award winners, which were voted on by officers of those regional sections.
More on the award from LPGA Professionals:
The LPGA Professionals Coach of the Year Award was established in 1980 and is awarded annually to an LPGA Professionals member who is actively engaged in teaching and/or coaching golf at the collegiate or high school level.
LPGA Professionals Class A member Debbie Williams-Hoak knows what it takes to compete at the highest levels. She is a former LPGA Tour Player and track & field athlete who represented U.S. Track & Field in Russia and West Germany. She is a four-time Big Ten Champion, a member of the Ohio Track & Field Hall of Fame, University of Michigan Women’s Track Hall of Fame member and a member of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame as a player, coach and teaching professional. This year, she is being inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor.
Having been a multi-sport athlete accustomed to competing at the highest level, Williams-Hoak brings something unique to her coaching style. She has successfully coached boys and girls golf for the past 16 years at Saline High School in Saline, Michigan, and currently is serving as the first female president of the Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association. Williams-Hoak feels proud that every girl on her team shot career lows while maintaining 100-percent academic eligibility this season, while her boys team placed second in the conference championship and qualified for its second-straight state Finals appearance.
She is dedicated to instilling a lifelong love of the game while empowering students through golf and hopes her example will pave the way for other women coaches to lead as well.
Williams-Hoak received the 2017 Sandy LaBauve Spirit Award, the most coveted honor bestowed by LPGA*USGA Girls Golf, for her continued dedication and passion for empowering girls through golf. She was honored with the Midwest Youth Leader of the Year and Goldie Bateson Award two times, in addition to numerous recognitions as Coach of the Year from Saline High School.
She is deeply involved with the LPGA Professionals organization, which she currently serves as the LPGA Midwest Secretary since 2021. She has been site director for LPGA*USGA Girls Golf of Greater Washtenaw Country since 2015 and acted as an advisor for the Site Director Certification program in 2021. From 2018-2021, she worked as an expert committee member for LPGA*USGA Girls Golf. She also coached at the LPGA Leadership Academies in Michigan over the last two years.
"I am extremely humbled by this award, as there are so many outstanding LPGA coaches in our association. What an honor to represent the LPGA, the state of Michigan and the game of golf as a coach,” said Williams-Hoak. “It is a privilege to work with so many wonderful players who make coaching so rewarding. I am also fortunate to have such great fellow coaches in Michigan and throughout the LPGA. Thank you so much for this very special recognition."
PHOTO: Saline golf coach Debbie Williams-Hoak, far left, stands for the trophy shot with her girls team after the Hornets won the 2016 Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship. (MHSAA file photo)